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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26230

Senator RIDGEWAY (9:21 PM) —The Australian Democrats oppose the bill in the following terms:

(7) Schedule 1, page 5 (line 2) to page 28 (line 23), to be opposed.

(8) Schedule 2, page 29 (line 2) to page 45 (line 23), to be opposed.

(9) Schedule 3, page 46 (line 2) to page 63 (line 31), to be opposed.

(10) Schedule 4, page 64 (line 2) to page 70 line (line 2), to be opposed.

(12) Schedule 6, page 79 (lines 2 to 32), to be opposed.

(14) Schedule 8, page 84 (lines 2 to 21), to be opposed.

Democrat amendments (7), (8), (9), (10), (12) and (14) all relate to schedules in the enabling legislation. They deal with amendments to customs, agriculture and veterinary chemicals, geographical indications for wine, life insurance, Commonwealth authorities and companies and patent law. Through opposing these items we seek to remove text from each schedule of the bill and, in effect, remove these amendments entirely. We take this approach given that the government and the opposition have not seen fit to support any of the earlier amendments about review or to affirm parliament having a role in the way in which policy is dealt with in this country. We oppose these schedules of the bill so as to not enshrine the free trade agreement into Australian law.

Having said that, I do not expect for a moment that either of the major parties will support these amendments, given that the government is wholeheartedly selling the dubious benefits of the deal and the ALP have disgracefully decided to fall into line. The Democrats are committed to proper scrutiny through this debate. We are opposed to the deal not just because of the lack of public information and proper debate but because we do not believe it is in the national interest. The ALP have gone to great pains to demonstrate the flaws in the agreement, but they will support it in the end. The fact is that the terms of the free trade agreement go way beyond this legislation. Some of the more controversial aspects of the deal have been left out of the bill, which is important to note as part of this debate. I assume the government have done that because they know they would not get those aspects through the parliament.

The Parliamentary Library's briefing notes on this bill make the observations that the government have not given significant consideration to legislative changes that might mitigate some of the potentially negative aspects of the Australia-US free trade agreement and that many of the bill's proposals merely involve extension of the government's regulation making power, which will involve less parliamentary scrutiny of the details. Those are significant points because not only is the free trade agreement a dud deal but the bill we are dealing with is a dud as well. It seeks to stop parliament from having any say on the range of legislation that is identified in the schedules. It seeks to take the role of parliament and put it into the hands of the executive of government.

The only opportunity parliament has to vote on this deal is through voting on the implementing legislation and, as it does not include the more controversial aspects of the free trade agreement, it raises questions particularly about the changes to the PBS listing process and the criminalisation of the use or sale of anticircumvention devices under our intellectual property law. I ask: how can this comprise proper accountability? At no point has this parliament had an opportunity to vote on these controversial aspects of the bill. In many respects, I think the government has thrown them in because we are all now expected to fall into line and tick-off these amendments.

Quite frankly, the Australian Democrats will not be supporting that approach not only because the parliament has been pressured in many ways to not debate this thoroughly, in an open way so that the Australian public gets to hear about the hidden details of the agreement, but also because the deal is not in Australia's best interests. It will do more harm than good to our social, cultural and environmental welfare. Given that this is the only opportunity we will have to oppose this deal, we have to do it.

My office has received many calls during the past few weeks. It received one from a constituent this evening. She said, `Is this what it feels like to sell your country for a couple of beads?' I totally agree and want to inform that caller—and those out there listening to this important debate—that it feels pretty terrible. In many respects our country is being sold down the river, and the government and the ALP are doing very little to stop it. We will try to do what we can to make sure that this agreement does not become law.

The amendments oppose each schedule of the bill individually to remove the operation of the bill entirely. We will have more to say in respect of Democrat amendments (13) and (15) as the debate progresses. My colleague Senator Allison will also speak to these amendments, particularly those that relate to schedule 7, which amends the Therapeutic Goods Act.

We will also have a lot to say about intellectual property because the largest chapter in the entire free trade agreement is on intellectual property, and scant attention has been given in any debate to the implications of intellectual property and the consequences of what is proposed in the agreement. The opposition have a list of 42 qualifications. They say they are going to have a Senate select committee to review intellectual property. Quite frankly, that is not good enough when you consider that the free trade agreement is dealing with the issue here and now. It is probably one of the most significant things and there has been scant mention of it. It ought to be debated properly. We will be looking at that in terms of its relationship to the Copyright Act. We will be moving some amendments to this schedule later to try to address some of the major flaws in what the government has drafted without any consultation whatsoever.

I will repeat some of the comments I made in the chamber last week to emphasise the importance of these amendments and the implications of the Labor Party's announcement that they will support what is a dreadful free trade agreement. Through these amendments we are trying to nullify the effect of this bill for one main reason: neither the government nor the opposition has seen fit to support any of the earlier amendments that would have affirmed that the free trade agreement is subordinate to the national interest and guaranteed that there is a role for the parliament to play. These amendments are a further attempt to ensure that this deal does not make it through the chamber because it is not in Australia's interest. I again remind the committee that there were over 500 submissions to the Senate select committee inquiry from people from all walks of life. Many of those submissions said there was overwhelming concern in the community about the impact that this is going to have on individual lives and on our nation.

After listening to these concerns and studying the terms of the deal carefully and thoroughly we believe that the position we have reached is a reasoned and balanced one. The FTA cannot be said to be in Australia's best interests, especially when we have not had enough debate. I have said time and again, and I will say it many times over, that the government have still left many columns blank on the balance sheet—the social, cultural and environmental costs. The FTA will do more harm than good and, even if we are to accept that it might bring some economic benefit to some sectors of the economy, the costs to our social, cultural and environmental interests are clearly too high. According to Dr Dee's report, we should not be paying this price for a measly gain and perhaps a pat on the head from our friends in the United States.

In many respects this trade deal could have been a great opportunity. I personally am not against trade, and neither are the Australian Democrats. I do believe it is capable of bringing real benefit to our country. However, the deal as it stands is unbalanced, unfair and flawed. The government, quite frankly, have bowed to the pressure of US interests. We are accepting what is left over instead of being able to say that we have a great deal. I have already said what our concerns are so I will not put them on the record again. We must keep in mind that there is always the potential for the US government and certainly US corporations to apply pressure to make us change our laws. The minister spoke earlier in the debate about the agreement not having an investor-state dispute resolution mechanism. I am still not satisfied with the answer he gave in relation to the triggering of consultation processes and what the end effect might be, given that they are looking at flexibility and not predetermining what might occur. What that does is throw it up in the air. It takes the chance that things will always go in favour of the national interest. I do not feel that same level of confidence.

The ALP also know this. They sat on the same inquiry, they have heard the same answers from the witnesses and they know that it is a bad outcome. Otherwise, why qualify it with a list of 42 reasons why the free trade agreement will damage our country? I think they are 42 reasons not to support the deal. They know it is a dud. Quite frankly, they have put political expediency ahead of the national interest. This is something that will continue to come back to haunt them for many years to come. I am extremely disappointed at the opposition's decision last week to support this deal. Their talk of two conditional amendments is a little like two bandaids on a leaky dyke. Quite frankly, I firmly believe that they are absolutely aware that the two amendments will achieve nothing at all. I think they know that the text will override any decisions that are dealt with in the courts. I think they also realise that the promise that when they are in government they might revisit and renegotiate the terms of the trade agreement is absolute nonsense. This is the time to take action and not talk rhetoric about the future. Removing the schedules of the bills is probably the next best thing that can be done. I do not expect the government or the opposition, given their position, to be able to support the amendments.